HC Deb 11 November 1969 vol 791 cc196-9
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. John Diamond)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I would like to make a further statement about the situation at the Stationery Office.

As the House knows, the difficulties at the St. Stephen's Press of Her Majesty's Stationery Office continue, and accordingly emergency arrangements to meet essential parliamentary requirements are in operation.

The difficulties at this works arise out of the unofficial action on the part of a single chapel following a return to work by the members of all the chapels involved on the basis of an interim wage offer. Although there are unresolved issues, there is no official dispute and no official support for a go-slow. Nevertheless, the output is irregular and has resulted in delay in the production of parliamentary papers.

I repeat my regrets for the inconvenience which has been caused to hon. Members in spite of my every endeavour to avoid it and to obtain a normal level of output at this Press.

These continuing difficulties present new problems to the House through the interruption of its services, and I anticipate that the House would wish its Services Committee to examine the whole matter in greater detail than is possible through question and answer. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is making arrangements immediately for the Committee to be reconstituted for the new Session.

Mr. Maudling

I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that we on this side of the House regard this as profoundly unsatisfactory. It has been going on far too long. The House is being seriously inconvenienced. For example, I believe that HANSARD is not generally available today. It is intolerable that the Government should keep asking Parliament to conduct its business without adequate preparation of its papers.

Mr. Diamond

I share the right hon. Gentleman's views. It is unsatisfactory and there is inconvenience. I hope that the Services Committee will wish to go into the matter in full detail, in which case, if asked, I should be only too glad to give evidence.

Mr. Michael Foot

Will my right hon. Friend accept that many on this side of the House also feel that this is an extremely serious situation and that the House requires the most urgent action possible to deal with it?

We understand that there are difficult matters with which to deal, but will my right hon. Friend undertake that the Services Committee, which is to be called in to assist in solving the problem. will meet immediately? Sometimes we have a Committee of Privilege appointed which can sit at once and we can get immediate action. I think that the House deserves immediate action to deal with a matter of this kind.

Mr. Diamond

That is a view shared by the Leader of the House and, subject to the co-operation of those concerned, which means both sides of the House, the Committee, when reconstituted, would meet very early indeed.

Mr. Turton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that one of the unresolved issues is the printing of the HANSARD containing the debate in this House on procedure, about which the right hon. Gentleman gave some clear assurances last time it was raised? Will the right hon. Gentleman see that that particular HANSARD is printed before the Services Committee meets?

Mr. Diamond

I will certainly look into that point.

Mr. Atkinson

May I ask my right hon. Friend to give us an assurance that the Services Committee will not discuss alternative supplies? [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] My right hon. Friend will recognise that if that sort of item is to be on the agenda for the Services Committee this will develop into an official strike and we will have no supplies at all.

Mr. Diamond

With respect to my hon. Friend, I should never attempt to limit the proper discretion of right hon. and hon. Members of the House who have been asked by the House to conduct a certain inquiry. I should be glad to give evidence on any matters which the Services Committee thought appropriate.

Mr. lain Macleod

Can the right hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance for which it has often asked? Can be give a flat undertaking that no important business will be taken by the House without full documentation before us?

Mr. Diamond

We have never reached a situation where the House has been asked to discuss business without adequate documentation before it. I recognise that there is inconvenience, but the right hon. Gentleman is not on that point, but on the question whether it is proper, or indeed, possible, for the House to discuss business. We have not reached that position, and I hope to avoid it.

Mr. Amery

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we are facing something quite different from the ordinary industrial dispute, whether official or unofficial, and that to interrupt the procedure of the House of Commons is quite intolerable, and even more serious than a strike would be in the Armed Forces?

Mr. Diamond

As the right hon. Gentleman recognises, that is a different constitutional position. I recognise the serious aspect of this dispute, and that is why I think that it is a matter which has to be gone into and examined in full detail. This process of question and answer is not adequate for that.

Mr. David Steel

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that by the course that he is suggesting he is asking the House to dispose of its right to debate the setting up of the Services Committee? This is a serious matter, because the right hon. Gentleman is assuming that the Services Committee will be set up automatically on the Motion of the Leader of the House. This means that Members who wish to express concern about the non-implementation of some past recommendations of the Services Committee will have to forgo their right to use this opportunity once a year to debate it.

Mr. Diamond

I made no such suggestion. I made it clear that my right hon. Friend would be putting down the necessary Motion. It is then for the House to deal with it as it thinks fit.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

May I ask whether, in considering this admittedly extremely delicate problem, the right hon. Gentleman will give special attention to the problem which is now likely to concern Standing Committees, especially with regard to Amendments, bearing in mind that there are at least three Bills about to go to Standing Committees, which have to be dealt with next week?

Mr. Diamond

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his words. I assure him that the matter to which he has referred is one to which we have given careful consideration.

Mr. Heffer

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will ask his right hon. Friend why such a long period of time is to elapse before the Services Committee is established? There are other matters that hon. Members have raised with the Leader of the House which necessitate the Services Committee being established at the earliest possible moment. May we have an assurance that this Committee will be set up forthwith so that this and other matters can be dealt with immediately?

Mr. Diamond

My right hon. Friend has heard what my hon. Friend has said, and he has authorised me to say that so far as it lies in his power he is taking steps for that to be done immediately.